The Drama of Dingle’s Famous Light Rail
If you drive from Tralee to Dingle along the N86, you will see some beautiful scenery in the fleeting moments you can safely glance up from the road. Of course, in times past it would have been a very different journey. If you were travelling in 1913 instead of now, you could have enjoyed the views from the Tralee and Dingle Light Railway. If one were to alight from the Dingle train to the platform today a short stroll across the road would bring one to our door at Emlagh House.
The rail was operational for less than 65 years, and it was not considered the safest. But the views as it wound around the rugged landscape of the Dingle Peninsula, puffing up brutal climbs and plunging down the steepest rail descents in Ireland, were astonishingly beautiful, so beautiful that one suspects even the locals would have had to quietly admire them.
The Dingle Peninsula draws admirers from around the world with its colourful towns, stunning sea views and sweeping, green fields dotted with rugged sheep. Mount Brandon is Ireland’s second highest peak. A closer look will reveal bits of Ireland’s past from the ancient Dunbeg fort to the monastic site known as An Riasc.
The railway line’s history is as dramatic as the landscape. In 1893, three crew were killed when the engine went out of control on the steep descent between Gleann na Gealt and Coraduff. It was carrying nearly 50 people and seven cars of pigs on their way to a fair in Tralee. The passengers were spared when the engine careened into the Finglas River, killing the crew, as the passenger coach was stuck suspended on a parapet. The pigs did not fare as well. In 1940, after the trains had stopped running aside from a monthly cattle shipment, a German spy was put ashore from a U-38 submarine one June night. On the morning of June 13th, he arrived at the station looking to purchase a ticket. The spy, Walter Simon, went on to Tralee and travelled to Dublin by bus. An Garda Siochana were alerted by the train staff and arrested him upon his arrival in the capital.
The Tralee to Dingle line was no ordinary railway in any sense. While the standard rail size when it was built was 5 foot, 3 inch, the Tralee to Dingle Light Rail was built with narrow-gauge 3 foot rails to save money.
This line was short, just 31 miles, and it had a short life with passenger services running only from the 31st March 1891 to 17th April 1939. Cattle could ride the rails on a monthly train for the market until June, 1953. But the line remains beloved, with many hoping to see it reopened. In fact, a short section was reopened from 1993 to 2007, and today locals and train lovers from around the world are lobbying for a return of the famous Tralee and Dingle Light Railway.
Angela Smith of Holyground in Dingle, Marion’s aunt & Gráinne’s grand-aunt used to recount many a story of her journeys to Tralee on the train. One such story was of a journey she took was that she remembered the engine puffing it’s way slowly up hill to Gleann n a nGealt & as she looked out the window an acquaintance of hers passed on his bicycle on his way to a football game in Tralee!